I have a label on one of the monitors in my office that says, “Can this be automated?”
This is a reminder to always be looking for ways to automate work that is being done manually. Seldom is there an application that will do my work outright, but automation allows me to organize work more efficiently and save some steps. I like to think in terms of workflow. What is the simplest and most efficient way to make sure everything that needs doing gets done? A little bit of automation work upfront can save hours of work over the course of a year. Those hours mean I can get more done without sacrificing time with my family.
Over the last couple of years, automation tools have become cheaper and easier to use. Here are some of the tools I use:
Wufoo – A super easy to use form platform. It allows you to build forms for any purpose. In Rio Texas, we use them for a lot of things, but I tend to use them as part of a workflow.
Basecamp – This is one of the best project management platforms out there. It is not a complex as some of the more advanced systems but that makes it easy to use. We recently upgraded to Basecamp 3 which is the best version so far.
Zapier – If you want to improve workflow, you need something to connect all the pieces. There are a number of products out there, but Zapier fits my needs the best. Platforms like Zapier, IFTT (If This Then That), and Workflow connect different apps to move information between them.
Text Expander – This is an app that helps save keystrokes. Most people use it to automatically expand often used words and phrases. For instance, when I type United M, it automatically fills in United Methodist. Even better for me, I can type a few letters and have it automatically fill in the entire text of a form email, including links and special formatting.
Jumpcut – I cut and paste a lot. Sometimes, I cut and paste lots of things or paste the same things over and over. Jumpcut holds my last 40 cuts and allows me to choose to paste any one of them.
Let’s walk through an example of a workflow we use in the Rio Texas Media Center. We have a service called Church Website Review. You can read more about the service here.
When someone fills out the form, Wufoo takes care of sending an automated email letting the church know we have received the request and giving them an estimate of how long it will take for a reply.
Then, Zapier takes over. Zapier notices that there has been a new entry on the Wufoo form, breaks it down into assignments and posts them to Basecamp. The work is shared between me and my associate, Austin. We each get assigned our role and are even given a due date based on the date the form was submitted. This even includes scheduling a four week follow up with the church.
Once it reaches Basecamp, the assignments are listed as “to-dos” on a special list we have for website reviews. We upload the work in progress right to Basecamp and can discuss the project in progress.
Once we get to work on the project, Text Expander and Jumpcut get to work. While each website review is individual, they all end up including some of the same content. I can insert large blocks of text with just a few keystrokes using Text Expander. Jump Cut saves me a ton of time cutting and pasting between different parts of the project.
Ways Automated Workflow Improves our Work:
It saves time – Maybe not hours but minutes. With all of the different projects we work on, these minutes add up.
It avoids email – Email is a great thing, but we tend to use it wrong. Trying to use it for requests and projects like this ends up with long threads and lots of wasted time looking for information.
It ensures the work gets done – When using email, it is easy for something important to get missed as new emails come in, and old ones scroll down. With this process, the work stays in front of us until we mark it done.
Maybe your work is less complex, or maybe you have fewer projects to keep track of. However, I think any church could benefit from these tools. Maybe you need a way to ensure that prayer concerns get distributed to the prayer team, and that the petitioner knows that they are being prayed for. Perhaps you need a way for people to register for events that automatically sends them the forms they need to fill out. Or, maybe you just need a way to communicate effectively with your worship team. There are tools that can help.
Have something you wish you could automate. Let me know in the comments and I will see if I can share some tools that will make it work.